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How to get along in the Philippines

I have written about being a foreigner here in the Philippines. There are many do’s and don’ts and many more I have not even learned yet. As you know if you read my articles, I try to learn cultural differences and try my best to understand when I am at home and when I am out in public.

Recently I made a new friend. I will not mention his name or where he is from because it is not needed. He is a larger man and very open, friendly and likes to joke. Watching him and seeing how he related to Filipinos made me want to write this.

He will walk right up to a Filipino and with his loud and joking voice say something he thinks id funny. Then he laughs at his joke. If a beggar walks up and has his hand out, he slaps it like a “give me 5” motion. Then says “You want money, go to the bank.” All you need to do, if you’re not going to give them some money is wave them off, say no, or if your near a business or mall, look for a security guard to chase them off.

From this I will write a list of a few things to think about.

Since we are strangers, do not enter someone’s “Private Space.” We all have a private space area that is different, but being a foreigner, you need to remember if someone does not know you, the distance you need to keep is bigger.

Loud voice and talking quickly.  A loud voice is threatening especially if you are a stranger and are not used to English with an accent.
Joking. I love to joke but realize “play-on-word” jokes using words with different meanings or different words with same meanings are not understood by most Filipinos. Then if you laugh at your joke, you might be misunderstood that you are joking and laughing at that person.

I am a huger and have noticed this is not something that has common acceptance here with Filipinos. Yes, men walk with men and women walk with women. They sometimes hold hands, hand on shoulder or even around waist. This is a custom of “the group” and I think also so you do not get separated in a crowd. A foreigner is looked as different and the touching is not a common thing. Again it can be taken at a threat.

So as a summary, be nice and friendly, but not overtly. Enter someone’s space slowly and with caution. Speak slowly and in a normal voice. Do not laugh unless you can really tell they understand your meaning. Do not reach out to touch someone unless you’re offering your hand in a handshake. Remember there is a language barrier and misunderstanding. Do not think because they speak to you, Filipinos understand the context of your meanings.

Many times I have experienced a “yes” or “ok” from a Filipino who’s English is not fluent and then realize they did not understand anything about what I said.

But, if you take your time, you will find most Filipinos warm, friendly, hospitable and nice people to meet and talk to.

12 Responses to “How to get along in the Philippines”

  1. Ray says:

    Hi Bruce

    Oh yeah I know what you mean about Filipinos not always understanding our english. I guess we have many expressions they do not learn in school. For example when my wife and I was dating something came up and I said Oh boy. She looked at me and said whats that. Now that she knows she says Oh boy. 🙂

    • Bruce says:

      Not only do they not understand American expressions, there are words they do not understand. That is why we need patience and learn to watch facial expressions. Filipinos do not like to let you know they do not understand.

  2. bingkee says:

    You are right, when I came to America I really don’t understand why Americans laugh at something I don’t find funny. Because then I did not understand the context of the joke. Now, I enjoy watching comedies on TV (King of Queens, Two and a Half Men, etc.) and I laugh with my husband’s jokes.
    And Filipinos being polite to foreigners would not let you know they don’t understand what you said.

    • Bruce says:

      It is nice getting a comment where you agree with me, hahaha.
      To me it is funny when I expalin a joke and am told they understand but with no smile to show they understood the humor or it.
      The ok’s and yes’s when not understood causes problems because foreigners are not sure if what was mentioned will be done.

  3. Dan says:

    Kudos Bruce.
    I learned to respect others no matter who they were or where they were from at an early age. Living abroad opens your eyes, or as I like to say “causes you to look at things through a different set of glasses”.
    I gained the respect of my friends in the Philippines early on because I made it a priority to learn the language, mannerisms and courtesies. It spoke volumes to them. It’s amazing how a little effort on our part will go a long way with others.
    It is key to remember that people view situations based on their life experiences and the life experiences of the Filipino’s are generally quite a bit different than those of Americans. Actually, its not unique to Filipino’s. I’m sure you would agree that someone from Alabama has a very different upbringing than someone from New York or Chicago. Being aware of this fact and treating others with a mutual respect is extremely important if you want to set yourself up for social success in the Philippines.


    • Bruce says:

      As you say, and is true, the Filipino life, culture, thoughts, family dynamics are so different. I try to learn and respect it, but it is like being left handed and at the age of 40 made to be right handed. You can do some things, but will still reach out with your left hand.
      Your thoughts and life experiences keeps bringing you back to your original thoughts.

  4. dan says:

    I understand completely. I am now 41 but it seems like just yesterday I was in Manila at the age of 15. I remember observing some American kids along Makati Ave at a beer house being loud, boisterous and treating the pedestrians w/ no respect. I stopped to say something because I felt it wrong. Boys will be an altercation ensued. I’m sure that was a great foreign policy statement to the spectators (being facetious).
    Anyways, life is a journey of learning. You have decided to take the advanced course in Int’l relations which is commendable. Most don’t have the where-with-all to do that and miss out on some of the best experiences in life.
    Maybe someday in our travels we will cross eachother’s path and be able to sit down and enjoy a good conversation about life in the Philippines. Until then..I will look forward to your blogs.

    • Bruce says:

      I bet Manila has changed a lot since you were there. The crash course is still crashing. It is a never ending learning experience. No one tells you what the thoughts are from Filipinos, you just have to observe and ask.
      Just curious, are you of Filipino heritage?

  5. Hyland says:

    I’ve heard others say some bad things, but I don’t believe one bit of it.

  6. wildcat75 says:

    Bruce, i have no difficulties understanding American english be it slang or not i guess reading alot of American english pocket books helps me a lot to learned american expressions and their body language and you’re right though that some filipinos have no idea what those american slang words or expressions are w/c are not taught in our school, i only learned all those since i’m a wide reader so it helps me to understand most words that i didn’t know before.So for all of you foreigners who decided to live in the Phils, just take your time and you will see yourself feeling more comfortable in your adopted countries, i’m sure filipinos will learn more alot from you too and vice- versa.

    • Bruce says:

      I find the older Filipinos who learned English at an early age and have kept exposed to it do better. There are many that have no use for it on a daily basis that forget. I understand English is not a official language here, but there are so many signs, tv and printed material here where English is needed for everyone.

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